NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk woman got the answers she was seeking Tuesday about the East Avenue widening project, but only because Michelle Maggio stepped in.
Sarah Hunter asked at the beginning of the Public Works Committee meeting for an update but was informed by Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) that East Avenue was not on the agenda. At the end of the meeting Maggio, a Republican representing District C, said she’d like an update. Tidbits that ensued included the possibility that the state might pick up a $3 million or $4 million tab to clean up a “mountain” of hazardous waste at Norwalk’s Public Works Center as part of the reconstruction of the railroad bridge over the Norwalk River. Plus, the railroad bridge will not open for four years if the proposals being discussed are enacted.
At the beginning of the meeting, Hunter protested McCarthy’s brush-off by saying that she thought the East Avenue project might relate to the sidewalk issue on the agenda. McCarthy said no, and asked Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord if there was a way she could get some information. Alvord asked her for an email address, but said the East Avenue project is “pretty much in limbo” because the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) is preoccupied with replacing the Walk Bridge, which failed twice last summer, causing Metro-North commuters much hassle.
Plans to widen East Avenue go back years. The state would like to lower the road under the East Avenue railroad bridge; it will be widened and there will be room for a bike lane, he has said. Opponents say that East Norwalk does not want the truck traffic that will ensue from lowering the road.
Three properties are being taken by eminent domain for the project. Michele (Michael) Napoleone was the only property owner resisting that process, as he had lived in his home at 220 East Ave. for 47 years. Napoleone died in August at the age of 84.
DOT intends to turn the property into parking for the train station after using it as a staging area for heavy equipment involved in the project.
Maggio asked for an update as part of the segment in the meeting where Council members can ask for updates on DPW’s projects. “Now we can answer Sandra’s questions on number 59, East Avenue improvements,” she said.
“No, he’s going to email her,” McCarthy said.
“Can I just get a tiny little update?” Maggio said.
The ensuing discussion was less than four minutes long.
The state has acquired all three of the properties, Alvord said. Only the deli on the corner of Fort Point Street is still occupied and the tenants expect to move out in the spring, he said.
“The state intends to demolish all three of those structures sometime probably in the late spring of next year,” Alvord said. “They’re going to turn it into a parking space to begin with until they need it for use as laydown point for the bridge.”
But DPW has had no success in getting information from CDOT about East Avenue because the entire focus is on the Walk Bridge, Alvord said. CDOT has its eye on the sewage treatment plant and the Public Works Center, both part of the same complex on Smith Street, across the river from the Maritime Aquarium, because it needs a place to put the construction equipment needed to rebuild the bridge, Alvord said.
“What we think we might do, we have this thing called Martin’s Mountain at the treatment center,” Alvord said. “We are going to suggest that we’d be happy to offer them that space as a laydown area if they are willing to pay the cost of shipping off all the material. That would save us $3 million or $4 million – actually our latest estimate is $11 million, but when they are doing a $500 million project that is nothing to them. They might be willing to do it because they need another acre of laydown space and we don’t use it now just because it’s a contaminated hill.”
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) asked about the expense. Alvord said the latest estimate for the project is $468 million.
Alvord said the problem is that the New Haven line cannot be shut down, so it has to be done in phases. CDOT’s latest plan is to close two track down at a time for the project, which will take four years, he said. CDOT will rebuild one half at a time. The bridge will not open for marine traffic during those four years, he said.
The new bridge will either lift up from one side or go straight up, he said.
End of discussion.
McCarthy’s time concerns at the meeting also affected another Norwalk citizen. Although the agenda specified that public speakers would only be allowed three minutes, McCarthy allowed Diane Lauricella to speak for four minutes before interrupting her as she was thanking the committee for continuing household hazardous waste collection day, which she said she founded under former Mayor Bill Collins.
She protested, asking for another minute. “There is really no one here,” she said.
“We have a lot of things to get through,” McCarthy said.
Lauricella demurred. There was no one else in the audience except this reporter. Councilman David Watts (D-District A), who is often talkative, was not there. The meeting flew by and was over in 41 minutes.
During the Zoning Commission’s public hearing regarding the then-proposed settlement with the Al Madany Islamic Center, McCarthy said it was an outrage that citizens were only allowed to speak for three minutes. Concert Hall was packed with citizens – even with the three-minute limit the hearing was three hours long.
Correction, 4:23 pm, Sarah Hunter, not Sandra Hunter.